From Dispatcher Trainee to Chairman & CEO

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Atlas World Group’s Mike Shaffer Honored with MSI Lifetime Achievement Award


This article originally appeared in Direction magazine July-August 2014 and was written by Cathy Trementozzi.

Enjoying a journey that has all the elements of a classic American Dream story, Mike Shaffer has become an industry legend, building winning teams that have made Atlas World Group the successful company it is today.

Of course Shaffer doesn’t view his life as an epic story. For him, it’s about seizing opportunities, achieving success through hard work and helping both individuals and teams reach their full potential.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that everyone deserves to be given a chance to progress within an organization,” he said. “I’m convinced that people are capable. Allow them to do their jobs, and get out of their way. I’ve been very, very fortunate that philosophy paid off.”

Moving has been the golden thread in the rich tapestry of Shaffer’s life and career. He attended 11 schools while his father’s work in the oil industry took the family throughout the United States, Saudi Arabia and Alaska, and relocated five times during his 38-year career with Atlas.

After serving his country as a U.S. Army helicopter crew chief during the Vietnam War, he worked as an oil rig derrick hand in Alaska.

In 1969, he landed the position that would propel his career. While driving to a job interview at Whirlpool, Shaffer saw a fleet of Atlas Van Lines vehicles on the side of the road. He inquired about a driver position but was offered a dispatcher trainee job instead. Shaffer took it and dedicated himself to learning the moving and storage business from the ground up.

In 1996, after 27 years with the company, Shaffer was promoted to president and chief operating officer of Atlas Van Lines and Atlas World Group. Three years later, he was appointed chairman of the board and CEO of both companies. He led them on an unprecedented growth trajectory, taking Atlas from the nation’s sixth-largest van line to the second-largest through the strategic acquisition of two competitors.

Atlas World Group grew 134 percent and posted record revenue numbers for several consecutive years. At his retirement, its 10 subsidiaries’ total revenues approached the billion-dollar mark. While other companies retrenched and lost revenue during the economic downturn, Atlas invested in technology.

In 2004, Shaffer spearheaded one of the most transformational initiatives in moving by launching an industry first: a trailer tracking system. The ability to pinpoint the location of each trailer and provide customers with real-time information on the location of their goods forever changed the way van lines tracked trailers and customers’ shipments. Shaffer also was instrumental in developing the moveAtlas™ and AtlasNet Inventory apps.

“We were able to progress and grow while maintaining the culture by supporting the drivers and agents,” he said. “If the agents do well, then we do well. That’s the basis on which Atlas was formed.”

This year, Shaffer was honored as the 30th recipient of the Moving and Storage Institutes’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Service.

Shaffer serves on the board of directors of Atlas World Group and Atlas Van Lines (Canada). He attends conferences and stockholder meetings, and he continually engages with drivers and agents. He has also been active on numerous AMSA committees, including the executive committee and the board of directors, of which he served as Chairman.

Reflecting on his career, Schaffer said, “I had the opportunity to work with some really great people who were excellent at their jobs. I had great help and a great family. I’m just glad I looked on the right side of the road that day.”

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